Text: Heather Storgaard
The New Year is a time of reflection, new starts and of course resolutions. Thinking about your place in Denmark in 2024? This is a guide to connecting with more Danes this year, whether you want out of your time in the country.
Lean into your network
This feels like a very Danish tip to give, but it’s valuable. Do you have Danes who have spent periods living abroad and understand your experience as an international in the country a bit more than most? Or perhaps a colleague who has shown particular curiosity about your background? Invite them to your house for coffee and cake and see how it goes. If you get invited back to theirs, remember to complement their house- they care a lot about this! Nothing tried, nothing gained is a good phrase to remember.
This may be an obvious one, but ask for what you want. Danes appreciate the clarity in this- if you want to socialise in Danish, say so. If you are looking for internationally-minded Danes to meet, ask your currently friends or colleagues if they know anyone. Danes can suddenly be much more helpful if you ask for what you want or are trying for with directness.
Behind the directness and reputation for cold exterior, Danes can be shy in a variety of slightly perplexing ways. This can give whiplash- I’ve had bombastic explanations of the virtues of the Danish Welfare State, followed quickly by the same person refusing to play Danish music on the basis that it’s embarrassing in international groups. While Danes are extremely proud of certain aspects of their nation, other cultural things you would expect to be widely shared or praised get avoided. It could take time, but showing genuine curiosity about Denmark and Danish culture will hopefully get your Danish colleagues to open up and share more about their culture with you, building a more deep-rooted connection in the process.
Be conscious of more than language gaps
At a party recently, a friend from the Danish minority in Northern Germany was talking about the cross-cultural interactions that occur between the mostly-German and mostly-Danish sides of her family. We talked about what she called ‘The Danish Face’- a smile of polite disinterest made by Danes during conversation they couldn’t actually care less about. The Danish speakers, native and learners, immediately felt that the story resonated, while the others seemed confused at our slightly hysterical laughter. Reflecting, I realised this is a perfect example of how learning a language is not purely linguistic- facial expressions, gestures and reading the norms of a different culture are all necessary learnings too. Conversely, it’s why fluent English speakers from Denmark can still struggle to socialise in English- although technically fluent in the language, they don’t know of the social norms that come with a group of beating-around-the-bush Brits, loud Americans or the everyone-is-learning mixed international groups speaking English.
"Behind the directness and reputation for cold exterior, Danes can by shy in a variety of slightly perplexing ways."
Dear Danish readers
There are many ways to make newcomers, long-term internationals and everyone in between welcome. I am possibly preaching to the converted here, but here are a few ideas on how to make your colleagues, friends or international family feel more welcome in social settings.
Please don’t ask us to pronounce rødgrød med fløde or count to 100 for you. We aren’t performing monkeys, and even fluent, non-native speakers can have issues with the insane Danish numbers or famous tongue twister.
I recommended for internationals to be curious about Denmark - the same goes the other way! Ask about other cultures, even if it’s somewhere you’ve never heard of or have little connections with. Links can be found in very surprising places.
Don’t switch to English at the very first mistake in intonation, tone or not-quite-flat ‘r’. If you do think a conversation would flow better in English, try to show courtesy by asking - "ville du helst tale engelsk? Eller er det fint nok for dig med dansk?"Switching in the middle of a discussion feels very rude, although it happens a lot to learners. Some will be relieved to switch and socialise in more comfort, while others will want a chance to improve or just get back into the stride of Danish.